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How Do Combines Harvest Corn?

By Karie Lapham Fay ; Updated September 21, 2017
Modern combines are a far cry from the earliest, horse-drawn combines.

It wasn't so long ago when corn was harvested by hand. Early combines (a name referring to its ability to harvest, thresh and clean) were horse drawn, giving way to today's combines, which can process about 200 acres a day of America's 68 million acres of corn.

Corn Picker or Corn Combine?

Both a corn picker and combine harvest corn, but a combine removes the corn from the ear. Sweet corn requires specialized pickers to avoid damaging its soft (moist) kernels. A combine harvests dry field corn.

How It Works

A "header" spans the front, sweeping several rows of corn plants into a giant, wheel-shaped pickup reel. The reel pushes plants down into the teeth of the cutter, where scissor-like mowing fingers cut the plant at ground level. Augers resembling giant drill bits then grip the corn and propel it up a conveyor belt to the threshing drum.

Inside the Threshing Drum

The threshing drum spins and vibrates, removing the corn kernels, which drop into a collection tank. These will eventually offload from a chute in the side of the combine, into another tractor. The chaff (plant stalks and cobs) travel on conveyor belts (called straw walkers) to the back of the combine, where it is expelled as mulch or baled and used for animal bedding.


About the Author


Karie Fay earned a Bachelor of Science in psychology with a minor in law from the University of Arkansas at Monticello. After growing up in construction and with more than 30 years in the field, she believes a girl can swing a hammer with the best of them. She enjoys "green" or innovative solutions and unusual construction.